What are terpenes?

Terpenes are what give cannabis its distinctive smell and are found in all flowering plants. These terpenes may even play a large role in how medical marijuana affects your brain.

December 29, 2019

Terpenes are quickly becoming a part of the language used to describe some of the chemicals associated with cannabis and hemp. Terpenes are not the same as cannabinoids, CBD, or that percentage of THC that you see on medical and recreational cannabis. Terpenes are a class of chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs for short. Think of terpenes as a naturally occurring solvent, much like solvents that you may even consume like wine and spirits, but these solvents are being made in the flower of a plant. In fact, all flowering plants produce terpenes, especially in the flowers. Terpenes are what give all flowers their smell, so next time you smell a rose or honeysuckle, remember the aromatic smell that wafts to your nose is actually terpenes. 

These terpenes also affect the body and may affect the brain in some very noticeable ways. For example, it is the terpene Myrcene that is most often linked to the feeling of drowsiness and lethargy experienced when consuming some strains of cannabis. Terpenes have a lot to do with the taste of the cannabis you smoke as well as much of the ‘bite’, ‘tanginess’, or ‘gassiness’ of the flavor. This is also influenced a lot by the moisture of the cannabis, or ‘freshness’. Properly treated cannabis flower should be dried and cured before it is ready for sale. Otherwise, if the flower is not aged properly, it can be harsh and have unpleasant flavors and also be more likely to mold and go rancid. A properly-aged flower will also have a unique terpene profile due to the fact that some of the terpenes are lost during the aging process and in some cases, this loss of some of the terpenes can refine the flavor and texture of the cannabis. Much like cigars, this elaborate process can create very unique varieties from even the same strain just because some terpenes evaporate and whisk off of the flower faster than others. 

There are six major types of volatile compounds found in the Terpene family of chemicals. Monoterpenes and Sesquiterpenes are found in the flower of the cannabis plant and there are a few others that are found in the leaves and roots of the plant. Of the Monoterpenes and Sesquiterpenes, the Monoterpenes are lighter and evaporate at a faster rate. This also means that Monoterpenes are the main contributor to the notorious smell of cannabis or marijuana. When selecting cannabis for its medical benefits, the terpene profile is incredibly important for the plant’s pharmacological effects. It is important to go to an experienced and knowledgable medical marijuana provider that can help guide you to your remedy.

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